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Christopher Browning
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Browning in 2019
Christopher Robert Browning

(1944-05-22) May 22, 1944 (age 79)
Nationality American
Occupation Historian
Era The Holocaust
Scientific career
Thesis "Referat D III of Abteilung Deutschland and the Jewish Policy of the German Foreign Office 1940–1943" (1975)

Christopher Robert Browning (born May 22, 1944) is an American historian and is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). A specialist on the Holocaust, Browning is known for his work documenting the Final Solution, the behavior of those implementing Nazi policies, and the use of survivor testimony. He is the author of nine books, including Ordinary Men (1992) and The Origins of the Final Solution (2004).

Browning taught at Pacific Lutheran University from 1974 to 1999 and eventually became a Distinguished Professor. In 1999, he moved to UNC to accept the appointment as Frank Porter Graham Professor of History, and in 2006 he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. After retiring from UNC in 2014, he became a visiting professor at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Browning has acted as an expert witness at several Holocaust-related trials, including the second trial of Ernst Zündel (1988) and Irving v Penguin Books Ltd (2000).

Early life and education

Born in Durham, North Carolina, Browning was raised in Chicago, where his father was professor of philosophy at Northwestern University and his mother was a nurse. He received his BA in history from Oberlin College in 1967 and his MA, also in history, from the University of Wisconsin–Madison (UW) in 1968. He then taught for a year at St. John's Military Academy and for two years at Allegheny College. He was awarded his PhD from UW in 1975 for the thesis "Referat D III of Abteilung Deutschland and the Jewish Policy of the German Foreign Office 1940–1943." That became his first book, The Final Solution and the German Foreign Office: A study of Referat D III of Abteilung Deutschland, 1940–43 (1978).

Browning married Jennifer Jane Horn on September 19, 1970 and had two children: Kathryn Elizabeth and Anne DeSilvey.


Ordinary Men

Browning is best known for his 1992 book Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland, a study of German Ordnungspolizei (Order Police) Reserve Unit 101, which committed massacres and round-ups of Jews for deportations to Nazi death camps in German-occupied Poland in 1942. The conclusion of the book, influenced in part by the famous Milgram experiments popularized in the 1970s, was that the men of Unit 101 killed out of obedience to authority and peer pressure.

As presented in the study, the men of Unit 101 were not ardent Nazis but ordinary middle-aged men of working class background from Hamburg, who had been drafted but found to be ineligible for regular military duty. After their return to occupied Poland in June 1942, the men were ordered to terrorize Jews in the ghettos during Operation Reinhard and carry out massacres of Polish Jews (men, women, and children) in the towns of Józefów and Łomazy. In other cases, they were ordered to kill a certain number of Jews in a town or area, usually helped by Trawnikis. The commander of the unit once gave his men the choice of opting out if they found it too hard, but fewer than 12 men did so in a battalion of 500. Browning provides evidence to support the notion that not all of the men were hateful antisemites. He includes the testimony of men who said that they begged to be released from the task and to be placed elsewhere. In one instance, two fathers claimed that they could not kill children and so asked to be given other work. Browning also tells of a man who demanded his release, obtained it, and was promoted once he had returned to Germany.

Ordinary Men achieved much acclaim but was criticized by Daniel Goldhagen for missing what he called a specifically German political culture, characterized by "eliminationist anti-semitism" in causing the Nazi genocides. In a review in The New Republic in July 1992, Goldhagen called Ordinary Men a book that fails in its central interpretation. Goldhagen's controversial 1996 book Hitler's Willing Executioners was largely written to rebut Browning but ended up being criticized much more.

Irving v. Lipstadt

When David Irving sued Deborah Lipstadt for libel in 1996, Browning was one of the leading witnesses for the defense. Another historian, Robert Jan van Pelt, wrote a report on the gas chambers at the Auschwitz concentration camp, and Browning wrote a report on the evidence for the extermination of Jews. During his testimony and a cross-examination by Irving, Browning countered Irving's suggestion that the last chapter of the Holocaust had yet to be written (implying there were grounds for doubting its reality) by saying, "We are still discovering things about the Roman Empire. There is no last chapter in history."

Browning countered Irving's argument that the absence of a written Führer order from Adolf Hitler to carry out the genocide of the European Jews constituted evidence against the standard Holocaust history. Browning maintained that such an order need never have been written since Hitler had almost certainly made statements to his leading subordinates indicating his wishes regarding the Jews, which rendered irrelevant the question of an extant written order. Browning testified that several experts on Nazi Germany believe there was no written Führer order for the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question" but that no historian doubts the reality of the Nazi genocide. Browning noted that Hitler's secret speech to his Gauleiters on December 12, 1941 alluded to genocide as the "Final Solution."

Browning rejected Irving's claim that there was no reliable statistical information on the size of the prewar Jewish population in Europe or on the killing processes. Browning asserted that the only reason that historians debate whether five or six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust was a lack of access to archives in the former Soviet Union.


  • 1994: National Jewish Book Award for Ordinary Men : Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland
  • 2004: National Jewish Book Award for The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy, September 1939-March 1942
  • 2010: National Jewish Book Award for Remembering Survival. Inside a Nazi Slave-labor Camp
  • 2011: Yad Vashem International Book Prize for Holocaust Research for Remembering Survival.

Selected works

  • (1978). The Final Solution and the German Foreign Office: A study of Referat D III of Abteilung Deutschland, 1940–43. New York: Holmes & Meier. ISBN: 978-0841904033
  • (1981). "Zur Genesis der "Endlösung" Eine Antwort an Martin Broszat" pages 96–104 from Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte, Volume 29.
  • (1985). Fateful Months: Essays on the Emergence of the Final Solution. New York: Holmes & Meier.
  • (1992). Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland. New York: HarperCollins.
  • (1992). The Path to Genocide: Essays on launching the Final Solution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • (2000). Nazi policy, Jewish workers, German killers. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • (2003). Collected memories: Holocaust History and Postwar Testimony, Madison, Wis. and London: University of Wisconsin Press.
  • (2004). The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy, September 1939 – March 1942 (with contributions by Jürgen Matthäus). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN: 0-803-25979-4
  • (2007). Everyday Lasts a Year: A Jewish Family's Correspondence from Poland. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press.
  • (2010). Remembering Survival: Inside a Nazi Slave-Labor Camp. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. ISBN: 0-393-07019-0 . This book earned Browning the 2011 Yad Vashem International Book Prize for Holocaust Research.
  • (2015), with Michael Marrus, Susannah Heschel and Milton Shain, eds. Holocaust Scholarship: Personal Trajectories and Professional Interpretations. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN: 978-1137514189
  • (2018). "The Suffocation of Democracy". The New York Review of Books. 65 (16). October 25, 2018.
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